Organic on a shoestring. And is organic even worth it??

USDA Organic.  Its merits are debatable.

  • The program allows pesticides and herbicides that, perhaps, shouldn’t be allowed.
  • It also doesn’t — at all — solve the basic problem with farming monoculture.
  • And, since an alarmingly increasing number of the small organic farms of years past are getting bought out by huge farming corporations, buying organic is no guarantee of supporting a family farmer, or even a small, locally-owned farm.
  • Organic doesn’t mean “local”, either, of course, and folks debate if it’s better for the environment to buy local conventional produce or organic that has been shipped 2,000 miles.

The USDA Organic program definitely not perfect, and it solves few problems with the massive corporate farming system in the United States.  The only thing that really consistently solves all those problems is growing your own organic garden, or perhaps supporting your local organic farmer by purchasing a farm share through CSA subscription.  I participated in a CSA — it (sob!) just ended for the season last week — but even though I got raw dairy, organically-raised meat, free range eggs, and organically farmed produce, it still didn’t cover all my family’s needs.  I’m also growing an organic garden, but I simply don’t have enough room to grow everything we need to feed our family, and even if I had the room, my neighborhood’s HOA doesn’t even allow chickens, let alone a couple of sheep or a cow.  While growing your own organic crops and raising your own organic protein of choice is most ideal, that’s not realistic for most of us.  And because of those difficulties, I still think eating organic is a good compromise.  Not perfect, but good.

Not that I can afford to eat 100% organic;  I don’t think I could do that even if there were fewer than seven mouths to feed in our home.  So, by and large, we eat “clean” all the time*, and eat organic when possible, and I work towards making organic eating possible on a tight budget.  Eating clean and cheap is simple (though inconvenient):  Buy loads of fresh fruits and veggies, bulk brown rice and other whole grains, dry beans, some dairy and eggs, some meat, nothing prepared, very few frozen or boxed items, eating every meal from scratch… But eating organic and cheap is much harder.

However, I have found that there are some organic standbys that are consistently the same price — or even less expensive — than conventional.  You just have to keep your eyes open and be willing to shop at more than one store.  For instance, here in the Phoenix area, there is no reason NOT to eat organic carrots.  I know that my local natural foods market, Sprouts, ALWAYS carries five pound bags of organic carrots for $3.99.  That’s $0.80/lb.  Typically, one-pound bags of conventional carrots are around a dollar.  Of course, if you buy conventional in bulk, you may pay around the same price or perhaps a bit less as organic-bulk carrots;  five pound bags of conventional carrots are typically $3-4.  My point, though, is that you can often (not always) find organic deals, if you keep a sharp eye out.

And, every week, I seek to purchase organic products to stock my fridge and pantry, on a shoestring.  My own organic deals of this week:

  1. Two, ten ounce boxes of Erewhon Organic Crispy Brown Rice gluten-free cereal from Bashas’ (local, family-owned chain) on clearance for $0.99 each.  Better price than conventional.
  2. Sixteen cans of S&W organic canned diced tomatoes, 14.5 oz size, for a net of $0.48 each — purchased in two small 8-pack cases with a buy-one-get-one-free coupon at Costco.  Better price than conventional.
  3. Five pound bag of frozen super sweet white kernel corn by Watts Brothers Farms for $5.49.  That’s $1.10/lb.  Better price than conventional.  You can typically find frozen conventional corn in one pound packages for $1.25 – 1.50.  Costco typically carries a selection of 2-5 varieties of organic frozen produce, most hovering around $5 for 5 lbs.
  4. Half gallon of Horizon half-and-half at Costco, at its normal price of $3.99.  My husband and I lighten our coffee with half-and-half and regularly use up about a quart plus a cup every week, so this will last us more than a week.  The best price on conventional, all-natural, no-additive half-and-half is $1.87 per quart at Fry’s.  It’s $2.29/qt at Bashas’.  So, this deal is that you can purchase organic for roughly the same price as conventional.

Every week I have a similar story:  Organic items I’ve purchased for the same price or lower than conventional by always making my grocery list with the store’s food ads in front of me, checking the store’s clearance area, knowing which stores have the best deals on which items, using coupons when possible, comparison shopping, and keeping track of an item’s normal selling price.

No wonder my brain feels full.

I should start a regular series of my cheap-o organic finds.  Hmmm…


*Well, most of the time, say, 97-99% of the time.  I have virtually eliminated chemical additives of all kinds from our food and other non-healthy stuff like corn syrup and hydrogenated fats.  But, occasionally, a couple not-perfectly-healthy things slip in.  My least “clean” purchase this week was two boxes (for my older two, gluten-eating sons) of General Mills’ Honey Nut Cheerios.  $2.98 for two 12.25 oz boxes, on sale plus a coupon.  See ingredients and nutrition info below.  Not terrible, certainly, but not fabulous.


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on October 27, 2011, in Budget, Clean Eating, Cooking/Baking/Food/Recipes, Groceries, Shopping. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. So for awhile we were doing really good and eating clean 90% of the time. Then the Zookeeper started a part-time job at night and now we hardly ever see him. So I just started feeding them sandwiches and leftovers and no veggies because it is always an argument with at least one child about the merits of eating veggies.
    Oh and my grandma prefers fast food to anything even remotely healthy and whines and complains about everything else so throw in at least one fast food meal and our diet has gone down the drain!
    I have shopped other stores and still have a hard time finding organic food at a reasonable price. Except for carrots. They must grow no matter what.

    • I know you’re having a hard time with your grandma. I’m so sorry.

      I’m really not fond of living in (or, more accurately, on the fringes of) a metropolis, but one good thing about it is that I have a really wide range of shopping options, including groceries. I regularly shop at six different stores for groceries, though not all of them on the same week, and I know what I can find, where… Not everyone has that option.

  2. I think the Midwest is a little harder at finding organic foods and such too. We like our beef and fries. hehe Seriously though we don’t have the stores and such that farther west does, but we are getting a Whole Foods and it is almost finished!

  3. I read your post below about growing a garden in the desert. I have been doing so in New Mexico(north of El Paso) since 2006. It has taken much calculation and conservation but we have finally mastered a system. First and foremost we gave up beauty…which we are slowly recovering, as we went to Mesilla Maze in Las Cruces New Mexico and discovered tire gardening. Utilizing a tire raised bed method water is maintained in the soil for the plant intended.

    This past garden was magnificent even though it was one of our smaller ones. I slowly have been painting the tires whenever I find paint on our local yard sale sights(no need to buy new). The coloring of the tires has become an eclectic southwestern delight.

    We also raise our own beef, lamb, chickens, turkey and goats. In the past several years I have learned to make our own cheeses, and prepare much food simply and organically. We use no corn and buy an organic feed that we add to with dried crushed mesquite beans and any items we can harvest locally-leaves, pecans, thirds from local orchard and the likes.

    I am not too sure about you as I found you while researching about rice milk and decided to read more 🙂


    • Woo hoo, Jennifer! I am putting your blog in my reader. Your farm sounds GREAT!!! I love how you’re raising your own animals. I am in a suburb and cannot even have my own chickens. 😦 This past summer, I got raw dairy (cow and goat), organically-raised meat and produce from a CSA I participated in.

      I love the idea of old tires for raised beds! I’m going to keep an eye out. I don’t have much room for more garden, but I can surely find spots for tires. 🙂

  1. Pingback: Organic deals of the week « Only Sometimes Clever

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